Craig Nielsen of Flotsam And Jetsam

January 12th, 2005
by Arto Lehtinen

Flotsam And Jetsam have been in the metal scene as long as other so called big and legendary names for example Exodus, Testament, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica to name a few. The Arizona thrashers have struggled through the years by facing both ups and downs. However, after the vocalist Eric A.K.?s departure and return, and after the megalomaniac Japan tour together with OverKill and Death Angel, the band has finally started working on the follow up to the 2001 release MY GOD. Flots? drummer Craig Neilsen politely unveiled about the upcoming ninth studio album? Enjoy!

 

Good day to Arizona, what?s up there right now ? I guess it gotta be damn hot there at the moment as the sun is burning the ground to dead, right ?!         

Actually this has been the coldest winter in Arizona that I can ever remember. But yes, usually it is hot enough to cook a chicken on the front seat of your car, 10 months of the year.

TOURS AND GIGS

Flotsam And Jetsamn recently did a real thrash metal extravaganza tour to the land of the rising sun together with Death Angel, Overkill by playing three gigs in Osaka,  Kawasaki, Tokyo.. It is pretty much obvious the reaction and respond amongst the Japanese metal crowd was quite phenomenal. Or how could you describe the whole trip and gigs in Japan all in all ?                          
 
I would have to say it was the greatest tour experience this band has ever had. The details were planned in advance expertly. The fans were extremely kind and excited for the shows. There was not one thing about the shows or planning that could have gone better. Even our video of the first Tokyo show came out much better than our DVD, and they gave it to us after less than 1 day of editing! Just amazing professionalism. The performances from all the bands were unbelievably tight and passionate. It really was as though we were all up there giving the very best of what we had after all these years, and the fans were just incredible.

 

As far as I know it was your first trip to Japan, presumably the whole Flots group had to be more than thrilled about having this opportunity, right ?! Well will you make another old school thrash strike to Japan some day ?!    

This band will never turn down any and all offers to do shows in Japan. In fact, even Eric A.K. has said that he will do any Japanese shows, thats how impressed we were with the whole set up.  And I think it is fair to say that Flotsam made many, many new fans there from the recent shows.

 

Continuing this old school thrash metal revival discussion a little bit more as Flotsam And Jetsam took the part in the now legendary Thrash Of The Titans event where several old thrash, once defunct, returned to th limelight to collect the funds to help Chuck Billy and Chuck Schuldiner? When getting on the stage beside other Bay Area bands in front of huge die hard old school thrash metal freaks, was the feeling within Flotsam And Jetsam like a homecoming feeling in a way or another?

Besides Japan, that event was the other best show we have been involved with for many years. The bands started at 3pm, and not one single person left the room to go home until nearly 11 hours later!! Not only that, but the crowd was just as loud and into it the entire time, never burning out. It was a magical event, not to sound over dramatic. Every performance was inspired and great and there was a great feeling of being part of something very special. It is times like those when you realize why you ever got behind your instrument to begin with. What an incredible night. And even though Flotsam was not from the Bay Area, the fans were very welcoming to us and treated us with great respect. It was awsome.

 

I have wondered a little bit why Flotsam And Jetsam haven?t seen on the European soil for a long time (maybe I am mistaken), where that kind of music would have a better change to get the better respond and have the die hard metal audience, for example playing at big metal festivals would give a damn good exposure for you indeed?                   

I am more confused than even you are about the festival subject. I would think we would be getting many offers for festivals, but it seems that if you dont have a label working out deals behind the scenes to get you on those festiv als, you dont get offered. It is true that our record sales for the last few records in Europe have been somewhat disappointing, but I cant tell you how much email we get from fans in Europe who really want to see us as part of the whole festival thing, and we would love to participate. It is a subject we will be talking about a lot in the near future with our new label. As for general touring in Europe, Eric A.K. has said he wont be doing any major touring anywhere, including the States, so we have recently confirmed with James Rivera that he would love to tour with Flotsam in Europe anytime, and in fact we are talking to a couple of agencies about that right now. He sounds great on the songs and the fans would definitely not be unhappy.

 

Your tour plans with Metal Church went up in a smoke for a reason or another, but I assume you gotta hit the road when the new ninth album is out, right ?! Well when will Flotsam And Jetsam be seen with VoiVod on the stage ?!            

Yes we will be taking offers for touring to support the new record when it comes out, though it will not be with Eric, it will be with James. The Metal Church tour fell apart because of the agencies involved. They misrepresented every detail from the very beginning and it was the most unprofessional experience we ever had as a band. It sucks, because it would have been a great tour. We talked with Metal Church and they agreed that the fans would have been very satisfied with this particular line up.

 

 

WORKING ON THE NEW ALBUM

Flotsam And Jetsam are right now working on the new album and follow up to the 2001 release MY GOD, what kind of writing process do you usually have in the band, does everyone take a part in the creation process of new tunes, is it so a couple of guys just write the whole base for tunes and othes arrive at a rehearsal place to jam ?! Or how does this song writing process happen!?       

For MY GOD and the new record, Mark Simpson (Guitar) and myself do all of the major writing musically. Ed Carlson (Guitar) comes later and adds what he does best, which is to layer the guitars with lots of melody, he is very good at hearing melody behind rhythms, and his contribution is very important to how the songs develop. Jason Ward (Bass) has been a very major part of past songwriting, but lately he has decided to let guitar players write the guitar, which makes a lot of sense. Eric A.K. adds his parts later in the process which I like a lot. He doesn?t try to control the music writing, instead he writes around us, of course he will have suggestions and requests for parts, but most singers try to dominate everything and Eric does the opposite which to me is real cool. Eric has the most natural ability to hear and write melody that I have ever seen, he doesn?t stress at all about the writing process. Sometimes he needs help with lyrics, but thats not a big deal.

 

MY GOD had various styles, from the raging aggressive riffs like in ?Dig Me Up To Bury Me? to more groove mid tempo stuff like ?My God? and songs based on the catching riffs like ?Learn To Dance? and well some people think CUATRO was the best release from the Flots and whereas the first two albums are considered the best album ever done in the Flots history amongst the old school fans. As far as I know HIGH is Eric A.K.?s personal fave album?that makes people out there ponder which direction the Flots will ahead to on the next album, so could you politely shed some light on the material and songs of the ninth full-length album, tell us what you think it will b e sounding like?       
 
I would like to point out that CUATRO was a very expensive record to make and that is a good reason why it sounds so good. The engineer, Neil Kernon, got paid a lot of money to do that record because he is one of the very best at what he does. The first 2 records are incredible records without sounding so polished because of the inspiration between the band at that time to carve a name out in a new scene. Actually, DRIFT is Eric A.K.’s favorite Flotsam record. As far as the new record, it will be the most “old school” heavy than the last 3 records combined. There will be different textures, like on “MY GOD”, because we like to have different feels throughout 10 songs, but this time around, Mark was feeling very old school, so we just kept going with it. I think it will sell much better in Europe than the last few.

 

Will the ninth album be processed from the beginning to the end down there in Arizona and who is gonna be behind the desk, producing, maybe Bill Metoyer who has worked with you before ?!         

Yes we are doing the whole thing in Arizona, but not with Bill, who we love and have nothing but respect for. This record will be done by a guy who is the very best engineer in Arizona, who has a great love for this band and who will spend as much time in the mix as it takes to make this record sound exactly as it should. His name is Tom Giatron. He has exceptionally great ears and lives to record. It was a very smart choice for us.

MY GOD saw the light of day back 2001 and some water has flown in the river since then and this so called retro thrash metal has been raging quite a lot, especially here in Europe as a lot of new bands wanting to be sound like The Haunted, Slayer or other old school thrash band. Of course old bands have emerged back to the limelight with the great triumphinal comeback albums and some old names have returned back to the more aggressive soundworld, but have you ever thought while punching away new songs about having fast straight forward played metal stuff for the next album!?       

As you know, Flotsam has a reputation for always thinking a little bit different in their songwriting. With a singer as melodic as Eric A.K., we like to make the most out of such a special voice, and hammering away speed riffs only, this is not what Eric wants to do, and neither does anyone else in the band. We like the listener to be taken a a few different musical styles throughout a record and thats a signature of this band. But yes, we are definitely approaching more traditional, aggressive sounds and riffs for this material.

 

All right, unveil some new tracks and even a possible title for the ninth album..hahah    

I’ll tell you that the title is going to be “DREAMS OF DEATH”, which old Flotsam fans will remember as being a songtitle from the past. It fits into a lyrical theme that will be used on the majority of songs.

 

Will there be any guests doing solos on the new album ?!     

None are planned as of yet, but thats a very good idea, and we may make that happen.

SWITCHING LABELS

Speaking of this record label policy now, The Flots put out all in all four album via Metal Blade, three via MCA, one via Elektra. The band started out under Brian Slagel?s belt as he even produced the debut album and after the adventures on MCA, the band return to the fold of Metal Blade, but I can?t help asking what exactly led to your departure from Metal Blade, cos I thought that label would have been the best possible choice for Flotsam And Jetsam !?       

At the time of the departure, Metal was at a very low point sales wise, for Metal Blade and for most every other label, some to do with downloading, some to do with overload of bands, and for other rea sons Metal was declining quickly in sales. We were one of the highest budgeted bands under contract at Metal Blade, and I think Brian just made a financial decision to help cut costs for his label. There was no hard feelings on either side, like they say, “Its not show friends, its show business”.  Since then, fortunately for metal, things have been improving, and we are looking forward to our experience with Crash Records.

According to my reliable source you would have inked a deal with Crash Music, right ?! Is the deal kinda based on the one/off deal with them and why did you after all decide to go on with them ?!     

It is a 2 record deal, we decided on them because of the commitment by the label for this band, and because their distributor, Caroline, is a good company with much interest in marketing a new Flotsam record. It is better to be a priority with a label like Crash, with great distribution, than just another band on a bigger label with resources spread out all over the place.

 

Before signing the deal with Crash Music, were there other labels showing their interest toward Flotsam And Jetsam ?!     

Yes, 2 in the states, 1 in Europe and 1 in Japan. I wont name names only because I am superstitious, and who knows if we will ever talk to them again in the future?

 

Do you have any idea why the deal ended with MCA ?!     

MCA was bought out by Seagrams, and many, over half, of the bands on the label at the time were dropped. They really never knew how to best market a metal band anyway, even though Cuatro did sell hundres of thousands of records worldwide. For example, they never got the band over to Europe even 1 time. Pretty ridiculous, dont you think?  They totally dropped the ball on “DRIFT”, and it was obvious they were going to let the band out of their deal.

 

ERIC A.K.?S DEPARTURE AND RETURN

Eric A.K.?s motivation to keep going on with Flotsam And Jetsam wasn?t that high as he pulled out on the eve on when the tour for MY GOD was about to set off, did he simply get fed up with the whole band activity back then and the whole heavy metal world and decided to leave to focus on other things and run his country band called The AK Corral, and was your relationship somehow inflamed between each other causing his  departure ?!                     

There was no real suprize to any of us that he pulled out of that tour. Eric has a very good job and a growing family, and he just could nt put that all at risk for a 3 week U.S. tour. We all understood where he was coming from. I was personally a little upset because I had put in a lot of time in the tour’s planning, but I got over it quick. I always knew he would come back for the recordings, and special events like Japan, so it all worked out fine in the end.  As far as the A.K. Corral goes, this has always been a goal of his, and it gives him a lot of personal satisfaction, and thats what life is all about anyway, so we all wish him the best in that project. It dosen?t compete with Flotsam in any way.

 

After Eric?s departure from the band, were you about to lay Flotsam And Jetsam on rest then ?!      

No, we knew if we got another record deal, he would come back and give 100% to the recording. He loves to record. And if we get offers for festivals next year, Im sure he would go. I never really thought he was quitting for good.

 

What made he change his mind to return to the band after all and is he now back for the long haul ?!          

He hasn?t really changed his mind. He will not do any extended touring, like he said before. He never said to any source that he wouldn?t record with Flotsam anymore.

 

Well how do you view how his interest toward this hellbilly country stuff fits to the heavy metal world, is there still passion left in his heart to carry the flag of heavy metal ?!?      

When you see the Japanese DVD that we will eventually release, or if you ask anyone who was there, or when you see him at any future European festival show, you will know that when he is “on”, he is still one of the best singers in this scene. I am amazed at how he can still hit the same notes he wrote when he was 18, but more than that, he has so much balls when singing, he doesn?t cheat, he digs into every note, whether he is having a rough night or not. He is not afraid of emba rrassing himself if his voice is tired, he goes all out, all the time. Does he have bad nights? Yes. But the good nights outnumber them 10 to 1. And he is on fire when he is feeling inspired.

 

James Rivera was hired to fill the empty spot left by Eric for the tour. Now afterwards, was it basically a good idea to set off for that tour without Eric A.K ?! If I have understand right the tour didn?t do that well in the money-wise after all, cos there weren?t that many people at some shows ?!           

Not to sound defensive, but I talk to a lot of agents and most tours were “getting killed” at that time, plus, we were out alone with no known support, something no band does anymore, and for good reason. Fans are used to tour packages now, tell me about any band who goes out alone in the states anymore and does well? I cant think of one. I dont think it would have been different if we went with Eric. We should have taken less money and toured with a suitable opener, or even opened ourselves. Just a bad business decision.

 

What do you think about Rivera?s bands like Helstar and Seven Witches and their works in general?

I liked Helstar as soon as they came out all those years ago. I liked them a lot. They were some of the originators and innovators of Progressive metal. I have nothing but respect for them. And Seven Witches is a great old school band. Jack Frost lives for metal and it comes across sincerely with evey note he plays. James was the perfect choice as singer for that band. Im a fan.

 

 

OTHER LINE-UP CHANGES

Hmm..Let?s have a real straight question now : I guess Flotsam And Jetsam is definitely a serious band for each of you, but honestly I assume the band comes second as to the priortiy in the life of the members of the band, cos all of you have a normal day job, families to take care of, how do you share all the time and interest to continue with Flotsam And Jetsam years after years, what is everyone’s time commitment like for the band in general ?             

I think the distance between our daily lives is exactly what makes us such a great live band. When we get together now, there is a true feeling of enjoyment and inspiration. We dont over analyze ourselves, the scene, the fans, or anything else. We are very confident evey time we hit the stage that we will deliver exactly or more of what is expected of us. Spending too much time together dulls that process I think.

 

Flotsam And Jetsam haven?t got that many radical line-up changes for example the long time drummer Kelly David Smith left 97/98 when you Craig stepped in, and Michael Gilbert left at the same time as Smith and Mark T. Simpson came in?Jason Ward came in replacing Troy Gregory who then joined Prong back in 91 by doing a couple of Prong albums. And of course the Newsted case is widely known all around.. But Have all Smith, Gregort, Gilbert now given up and disappeared to nowhere from the music nowadays?      

Gilbert still plays in local Phoenix bands, Kelly Smith dosent play much anymore except as a hobby, dont know at all what Troy Gregory is doing.

 

I can?t help asking regarding Jason NewSted that if he has ever seriously spoken to any of you about re-joining the band in a way or another?             

He has talked mostly to Kelly Smith, and to Eric A.K. in the few times he has been in Phoenix, and I know the subject has been brought up, but the bottom line is he’s not here. I dont see it happening, but I could be totally wrong.

 

I wonder if Testament, who started at almost the same time , and released the debut album in ’87 when Flots got their own debut album out ’86.. But Testament have got a better following in spite of all the same problems what they have faced (label line up problems, etc..) as well as you? Of course it is kinda worthless to compare you to thehm, but what would be a reason why Testament and Anthrax too have succeeded in appealing to the big metal crowd nowadays wheras Flotsam And Jetsam have stayed more or less in the background?             

I’ll just humbly say that the cream rises to the top. Not that we dont put as much of our hearts into our records or performances, and I would confidently play after either of those bands any night, but maybe they are just better, I dont know. I think if we were supposed to be where they are today, we would be.

 

THE FIRST DVD RELEASE

The first DVD was unleashed some time ago. Frankly I haven?t managed to get a hold of it due to the unknown distributor here in Europe. But the DVD contains the whole gig shot in your hometown, right ?           
 
Yes it is a Phoenix show that we did after not even seeing each other in 8 months. As a result there is a lot of great energy captured, but maybe not the best vocal performance. And we didnt fake it and go back and re-record vocals. we left it raw and real. I love the performance, but some might find faults with it.

 

There is the second disc included as well containg your beer drinking as far as I know, right ?! What else does it have? But why didn?t you include your old videos to the DVD?

I think the second disc actually is boring and not very well shot. Its basically one long tape of us backstage with some interviewing when we are still sweating from the show and winding down. There are no edits, and I dont personally like that style of filming much. As for the old videos, we would have needed permission and probably money to use them and we decided not to.

 

As I complained about the distribution of the DVD, who handles it there in The States and how in Europe? What would be the easiest way to get a hold  of the DVD release?

The best way by far is over the internet. All the major on-line sites have them, and if you do a search for the title, you will easily find it. “Flotsam and Jetsam, Live In Phoenix”

 

Are you going to release another DVD from your Japan tour, cos there was a local camera crew shooting some of shows ?!           

Yes! And that show fucking RULED! Everyone was in top form and we will definitely be releasing that in the near future.

 

LAST WORDS?

Before concluding this short interview, I would be curious to find out what METAL stuff you have recently listened to ?! Name something                 

Lamb Of God, Mastodon, Children Of Bodom, and I really have been getting into Porqupine Tree.

 

I for one thank you for your time and interest to answer my questions. I wish all the best to the whole Flotsam And Jetsam and hopefully the band will be seen in Europe, hopefully next summer? Of course the last words are yours, so go ahead?             

All I can say is, please always be careful to not get too caught up in one style of metal at the expense of all others. To keep metal alive we have to be open minded to all the substyles and have respect for great songwriting regardless of imagery and hype. Flotsam and Jetsam will deliver a great record this year, and we hope t o see you on tour and on festivals. you will NEVER leave disappointed from a Flotsam show, that is my personal guarantee.                        

Flots til Death!!!!               
Craig Nielsen

The official Flotsam And Jetsam website :
www.flotsam-and-jetsam.com

  

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